The Ricky Williams Dividend

On the eve of the start of training camp the league is abuzz with the recent news of Ricky Williams departing the world of pro athletes and setting sail for "a passage to Bankok." I suppose the rigors of life in the NFL were simply too much for Williams which is in part understandable given the sacrifices of time, family, privacy, and likely to some extent sanity that top pro athletes make.

It will be an interesting case study to be sure to see the episode of "Where Are They Now" regarding Williams in a decade or perhaps even sooner. Who knows where Williams is at the moment. Likely halfway to Thailand where "greener pastures" await his arrival so that he can begin his descent into a more sedate state.

If that does not do it for Williams, then it will certainly be a mystery as to why this has all unfolded the way it has. His stated preference for bailing from the limelight of athletic celebrity life and joining the minions of potheads around the world certainly presents a hearty contrast.

The recent word is that Williams did not depart the NFL and the Dolphins because of a failed drug test for marijuana. Rather, that he failed the test, or engaged in behavior causing him to fail the test, as a result of his decision. Whatever.

How much Williams' departure alters the landscape in the AFC East remains to be seen. While it stands to reason that Patriot fans are likely somewhat indifferent, Bills' and Jets' fans are likely more encouraged as to the ramifications.

This situation likely will not help the Bills as much as has been bandied about amongst fan sites and in the media. Ricky Williams was a running back who's performance never lived up to his hype. He had one superlative season and that was in 2002. Other than that Travis Henry's past two seasons have exceeded any of Williams'.

In his other four seasons Williams never achieved double-digit touchdowns, eclipsed the 1,400 yard rushing mark, or averaged any better than 4.0 yards-per-carry which is below average for running backs let alone the top rushers. Williams was much more in the Eddie George category than in the Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ahman Green, or Jamal Lewis category.

Which brings us to point number two, namely that everyone is writing off Travis Minor as a viable replacement. Now common sense and reason indicate that it would not be wise to lay much money on Minor becoming the next Barry Sanders, however Minor has always filled in admirably when called upon to do so. I think he will be a real fantasy football steal this season.

His career average-per-carry exceeds Williams' by half a yard and his average-per-carry last season exceeds Williams' by 1.2 yards. Granted, Minor has not exactly had an abundance of carries to evaluate him on, however, his long runs are not exactly of the track-and-field distance variety indicating that he is simply a good solid rusher who can be counted on for four or five yards.

I am not at all sold that his replacing Williams may not in fact be a positive development for the Dolphins. As well, if Williams has been playing in the past with all of this now come to the front emotional and psychological baggage, then how much will it help the team to have a rusher in there that has a true zeal for the game and for playing football remains to be seen.

Furthermore, the Dolphins clearly bring an improved passing game to the table this season helping to increase the viability of this more traditionally sized running back Travis Minor. Again, whether or not this occurs remains to be seen.

Here is why the departure of Williams will not assist the Bills all that much. Last season the Bills were beaten by the Dolphins on 17 and 20 point Dolphin scoring performances. If the Dolphins score only 17 and 20 points again, then if the Bills do not win, then it will surely not be a good sign for this team.

The Bills offense versus the Miami defense will once again be the contest on the field and that has little to do with Ricky Williams. If the Dolphins cannot amass in the 17-20 point range with Minor running the ball, then it will certainly be surprising. As well, Sammy Morris, who is very "Williams-like" in terms of size and averages although minus the overall experience and carries is there to assist.

Bills fans who are quick to assume two easy victories to the Dolphins now as well as a demise of the Dolphins as a result of this recent news and change would be well advised to consider the above. The Dolphins will likely once again be right in the thick of things yet the same yard shy of the ultimate success that they have been throughout recent history. They should be competitive, will likely make the playoffs, yet will not seriously challenge for the AFC championship or even come close as usual.

Fans concerned about the Dolphins would be better advised to keep a tight eye on the developing Ogunleye situation first.

On a side note, fans seem to be curious how the recent signing of Jason Gildon will assist the Bills in their quest to be competitive this season. Just as with Jeff Posey, Gildon comes in from playing in a 3-4 and therefore in a different role. Just as with Posey, Gildon's performances should not be assumed to improve through the transition. Gildon's best contributions will be made in situations where he enters the game as an additional pass rusher, not in place of one of those already on the field.

This signing will actually be an interesting development given the lofty statements made by the front office as well as by the coaches as to the viability of the Bills' play this season. If Gildon ends up replacing Jeff Posey or even Denney/Kelsay on some passing situations, this will spell out a clear lack of confidence on the part of the team for the present starting roster prior to Gildon's having joined the team.

Gildon joins the team with his accolades as a pro-bowler long behind him and entering this season with three straight seasons of declining production and having turned 32 today and clearly past his prime. Gildon and his 6 sack performance last season in a 3-4 will likely not exceed Posey's 5.5 sack total of last season in the Bills' current defensive configuration. Posey, at 29, still has some upside remaining while Gildon does not. The Bills would be better suited to continue to start Posey all other things remaining equal heading into the season.

Gildon's contract was not outrageous and does not bind the Bills beyond the current season. Given the extra and heretofore unused cap space that the Bills have, this decision is a non-factor financially or cap wise. However, Gildon's days of double-digit sacks are gone and fans suffering from delusions of that recurring will be disappointed.

Again, Gildon used as an auxiliary pass rusher would likely be the most beneficial to the Bills. If he ends up replacing Posey or starts at LDE, then surely that will not act in support of the team's statements that they are fully confident in Chris Kelsay and/or Ryan Denney as the solutions at LDE. Nor would it boost recent media notions that the Bills have one of the best linebacking trios in the league if one of their OLBs is so easily replaced by an aging vet exiting his prime and one with barely the performance line of another in the midst of his prime and three years younger.

The Gildon signing was a decent signing that will not impact the overall competitiveness of the Bills on the season. Gildon will more than likely be a role player in pass situations only. The honor of improving the overall competitiveness of the team still befalls the play of the Bledsoe-led offense. If the Bills are to succeed this season, then they will have to go from being the dead last offense in the league easily over the last 14 games last season, to at minimum an average offense and likely somewhat above that even. On paper the skill-position talent is there spelling out "other issues" if this does not occur.

As stated in past pieces, this will also have to occur versus some extremely difficult and seasoned defenses and almost immediately once the season begins. In both of the cases above, the Ricky Williams scenario as well as the recent signing of Jason Gildon, neither situation helps the Bills offense nor Drew Bledsoe, nor even the offensive line for that matter, perform to the level that they will need to perform to in order to turn the Bills into a respected team once again.


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